Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review: The Cassandra

The Cassandra The Cassandra by Sharma Shields
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Cassandra by Sharma Shields is a retelling of the classic Cassandra myth, set at the Hanford nuclear facility during World War II. Full disclosure, I once again missed that it was a myth retelling until after I read it.

Mildred gets a job at Hanford as a secretary, and happily leaves home in Omak, Washington, where she had been her mother's caregiver. There is also a sense that she tried to kill her mother, but this isn't immediately explained.

Once at Hanford, the other women discover that Mildred has a penchant for sleepwalking, but with visions. She often wakes in the middle of the night in a river or a lake! She has visions of great violence at work as well.

Except. There is this feeling of Patricia Highsmith level of sociopath in Mildred that makes her completely unsympathetic as a character ... And it gets darker and darker up to the end of the novel. I don't know if this is a match to the myth, or if it the author's brilliant way of turning the reader into one more person who refuses to listen....

I had a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss. It came out February 12, 2019.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review: The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into this expecting a lighter read about the love of books and instead found a deep scholarly work examining several topics connected to reading aloud. It spans brain development, bonding, and even looks at some studies of parents who were incarcerated or serving in the military recording themselves reading to their children and how that lessened anxiety.

I always make the students in my reading class read out loud, but I think this book will add some scholarly depth to that practice.

Personal connection wise, I smiled over the section on the Iliad and Odyssey, because when I was in T.A.G. English in 9th grade, we were divided into groups and told to "do something creative" and my group made a radio play, which in its own way is a form of reading aloud!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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Reading Envy 143: Reading the Pain

Spoiler alert - it's not all pain. Kala visits with Jenny in the Reading Envy Pub for the first time, and talks about how she likes books that put her in her feelings best. Near the end of this episode, Kala performs a book identification feat that rivals most librarians - figuring out a book from Jenny's desperate plea - "It's pink!"

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 143: Reading the Pain

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Books discussed:

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
Lucky You by Erika Carter
The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
The Best American Food Writing 2018 edited by Ruth Reichl

Other mentions:

3 Book Girls podcast
Segu by Maryse Conde
Children of Segu by Maryse Conde
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson
Educated by Tara Westover
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Hunger by Roxane Gay
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Severance by Ling Ma

Stalk us online:
Jenny at Goodreads
Kala on Twitter
Jenny on Twitter
Kala on Facebook
Kala's blog, Reader then Blogger
Kala is @ReaderthenBlogger on Instagram
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Review: Sugar Run

Sugar Run Sugar Run by Mesha Maren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blurbed by Scott McClanahan and Lauren Groff, agent Bill Clegg, published by Algonquin, Sugar Run is about a woman who was sentenced at 17 for murder and then without warning released and left without any resources to return home to West Virginia. The story alternates between 2007 ("present" day) and 1989 to fill in the gaps. I can't say I "enjoyed" it per se, that's not the right word for it, because the premise is dark, the main character is flawed and violent, and so is the world she is trying to navigate post-incarceration. I feel like it's supposed to be a character study but doesn't go quite deep enough for me - it's a little too event focused and holds too much back in an attempt to not finish the story of the crime she is accused of until the end of the book. But without knowing the truth of that event you can't really know the truth of that character, because you aren't privy to her full range of thoughts. So now I feel like I'm finished and confronted with processing all of the information I wish I'd had earlier. But that's probably a personal preference. I would still absolutely read her next book.

I do like the setting, the same sex relationships (and it's not about "coming out," but about living with a woman in rural America), it covers drugs and fracking and trying to survive after incarceration.

3.5 stars rounded up

Thanks to the publisher who sent a copy at the end of last year, and I talked about it briefly on a speed dating episode of the podcast. I would say my first impressions lined up with my end impressions. I also appreciate that the author went on tour close to me, in Appalachia, which is nice since the book is set in this region!

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Books Read 2019: 1-22

Pictured: January's 5-star Reads
  1.  84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff ***** (Audible audiobook; my review)
  2. A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen **** (Audible audiobook; my review)
  3. The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma by Jan-Philipp Sendker **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  4. The Popul Vuh translated by Michael Bazzett ***** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  5. Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu ****  (Hoopla eBook through library; my review)
  6. The Whole Life Adoption Book by Jayne Schooler and Thomas Atwood **** (personal copy; my review)
  7. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  8. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson **** (personal copy; my review)
  9. Lucky You by Erika Carter *** (personal copy; my review)
  10. Ways to Hide in Winter by Sarah St. Vincent *** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  11. Wanderer by Sarah Leon **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  12. Joy Enough by Sarah McColl **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  13. Severance by Ling Ma **** (library book; my review)
  14. Heavy by Kiese Laymon **** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  15. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss *** (eARC from Edelweiss; my review)
  16. Magical Negro by Morgan Parker ***** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
  17. You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
  18. The Debut by Anita Brookner **** (personal copy; my review)
  19. The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye **** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
  20. The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths *** (eARC from NetGalley; my review)
  21. Checkpoint by David Albahari *** (personal copy; my review)
  22. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner *** (personal copy; my review)

Books I did not finish:

Rag by Maryse Meijer (review copy)
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History by Lewis Buzbee (TBR explode)
The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegard (TBR explode)
Standing in the Light by Sharman Apt Russell (TBR explode)
My Life at First Try by Mark Budman (TBR explode)

Friday, February 1, 2019

Review: Magical Negro

Magical Negro Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read these poems twice, before and after a historical novel about racism in Oregon, and it strikes a chord with me that this collection is published by Tin House. One of the poems even talks about how it's too late for her to try to live in Portland or Brooklyn (the two homes of her publishing house.) And so the poetry settles into the reality of our existence, and the need to confront discomfort if we are really going to talk about race.

Since I had a review copy I can't quote any poems directly, but I want to, so much. Morgan Parker is in conversation with many of these poems, with current events, with other poets and poems, with the white gaze, the male gaze. Several poems are titled Magical Negro #x and imagine the perspective of several key figures in history; some are broader like the one about "the black body" (it repeats "the body is a person" to great effect.)

I can't decide which collection I like more - this, which seems more of a direct response to recent events, or There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, which gave me my first introduction to the strength and unpandering resistance of her words.

Favorites from this collection:

Everything Will Be Taken Away
"...You are a woman now
but you have always had skin...."

Whites Only

Magical Negro #84: The Black Body

Ode to Fried Chicken's Guest Appearance on Scandal

If you are over staying woke (and here in audio)

I Told My Therapist I Tried to Meditate and She Laughed

We Are the House That Holds the Table at Which Yes We Will Happily Take a Goddamn Seat
"...The difference between worth
and worthless without them

is science: how it feels to not be
able to see a person, and the number

of instances when we believed
we should die. ..."

Magical Negro #80: Brooklyn
"...Lead us not into white neighborhoods.
Deliver us from microaggressions...."

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Review: The Paragon Hotel

The Paragon Hotel The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Paragon Hotel is a fictionalized account of the one hotel in Portland that allowed customers of color through the 1930s, and the surrounding racism of the times.

(I grew up in Oregon with 4th and 8th grade focused on Oregon history but we never learned about this, however it explains a lot... Even today Portland is 72% white!)

I enjoyed the part of the novel set in Portland, but the parallel story set in Harlem seemed less realistic and maybe unnecessary, somewhat clogging the storyline. This is a good read for people who like the flapper jazz era but are looking for a spin on the usual.

I had an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley, and the book came out January 8, 2019.

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